Thursday, June 3, 2010

Friedman on the Flotilla

Thomas Friedman wrote a column in which he said, much more eloquently, what I was trying to say in my last post:

There is no question that this flotilla was a setup. At the same time, though, the Israeli partial blockade of Hamas and Gaza has been going on for some four years now. It is surely not all Israel's fault, given the refusal of Hamas to recognize Israel and its own repeated missile attacks on Israel.

But I sure know this: It is overwhelmingly in Israel's interest to bring more diplomatic imagination and energy to ending this Gaza siege. How long is this going to go on? Are we going to have a whole new generation grow up in Gaza with Israel counting how many calories they each get? That surely can't be in Israel's interest. Israel has gotten so good at controlling the Palestinians that it could get comfortable with an arrangement that will not only erode its own moral fabric but increase its international isolation. It may be that Hamas will give Israel no other choice, but Israel could show a lot more initiative in determining if that is really so.

I will say again and again that, on whole, this terrible situation is not Israel’s doing, and it’s not their fault. But, it’s still incumbent on Israel to do everything it can to end it. And, not only is it the right thing for Israel to do, but it’s the smart thing.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

The Flotilla, again

I’ve been reading as much as I can about the Flotilla incident in Israel. As I try to make sense of what I’m seeing, I came across Rabbi Paul Kipnes, who had an interesting entry in his blog:

There is ample evidence:

Five steps to begin to judge for yourself:

  1. Watch this video of how the soldiers were beaten as they boarded the boat.
  2. Examine this history of the flotilla and peaceful attempts to turn it back.
  3. Read this Jewish Journal article addressing concerns on the flotilla but also on the blockade.
  4. Explore the legality of a blockade in times of war.
  5. Consider this Haaretz Israeli newspaper critique, appropriate but balanced.

Taken together (especially with the Haaretz article) a picture starts to emerge (which seems, for me, to jibe well with the other pieces I’ve been reading). Israel was clearly in a no-win situation with this one, particular incident. They were enforcing a blockade (which, according to most of what I’ve read, is legal). They were trying to do so without violence, and they were attacked. This flotilla, in large part, was intended to do exactly this – provoke a response, and an international incident.

But, that Haaretz article, along with this piece by Amos Oz, puts some important perspective on the backdrop of this incident. Let me be clear that I think that the Palestinian leadership deserves the lion’s share of the blame for the lack of peace. But, it’s fair to wonder if Israel has done everything that it can to keep itself out of this terrible situation.

The blockade may be (probably is) legal, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a smart move, either politically or militarily. Israel’s larger approach to the ongoing conflict (see the Oz article, which I have real criticisms of, but nonetheless makes some important points) is not the main reason for the ongoing strife, but it may be one reason, among many, that it continues.

Similarly, I wholly believe that Israel has almost always lacked a partner in peace – it’s often been said that we make peace with our enemies, not with our friends. But, it’s also been said, not as pithily, that making peace with someone who wants to use that peace to kill you isn’t a good idea. But, as much as I believe that, can any of us say that Israel has done everything it can to promote the possibility of peace?

Strange as this is to say, I don’t want to be overly evenhanded here. As I keep saying, I do not believe that this is a “cycle of violence” with both sides equally to blame. But, I also don’t think that we gain very much at all from pointing fingers solely at one side, or from pretending that Israel is perfect.

I’ll continue to post materials here that I think shed light on this incident. I’ll hope, probably against hope, that the mainstream media starts to be less biased against Israel. I’ll pray, against all odds, for peace.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Israel and the Flotilla incident

Many of us have been following the unfolding developments in Israel. Israeli’s navy moved to intercept a flotilla of ships which were on their way to deliver aid to Gaza. Violence broke out on one of the ships, and 10 of the people aboard that ship were killed by Israeli commandos. The international community moved swiftly to denounce Israel, and some (such as the Turkish Prime Minister) have gone so far as to declare this to be murder.

Whenever these types of horrific incidents occur, I seem to have a predictable pattern of thoughts and feelings. My first is simply sadness – it saddens me to no end that this country which I love so much is constantly involved in these terrible incidents. Whomever you blame for them, any Zionist (a supporter of Israel) would give anything for this kind of violence to end.

On the heels of that sadness, very quickly I often become worried that Israel might have, in this case, done something truly horrific and wrong. The early reports said that the Israelis had opened fire, completely unprovoked, on the unarmed civilians who were simply joining together in solidarity with the people suffering in Gaza. There have certainly been cases of wrongdoing on the part of the Israeli forces in the past, and I worry that this might be another terrible example, which will haunt our people, and Israel, for years to come.

Quickly, then, I start to remember to take everything with a grain of salt. It seems that whenever Israel is involved in violence, the international community condemns Israel for it, and accuses it of horrific violations of morality and International Law. And, in the course of time, it’s almost always revealed that the facts didn’t exactly match the initial reports, and that Israel wasn’t, in fact, killing indiscriminately, or whatever terrible crime they’re being accused of this time. Despite the outcry from the United Nations and the Hypocritical Country of the Day (Turkey, which is occupying Cyprus in clear violation of International Law, seems very concerned with the legal status of the blockade – a blockade which Israel imposed because Hamas has been importing weapons, which they can do because Israel pulled out of Gaza and ended its own occupation of it. Turkey – home of  hypocritical irony, I guess), Israel is usually justified in the actions in took.

As the facts have started to emerge, the picture of Israel as evil aggressor has, once again, become less clear. If you accept the account of, say the Turkish Ambassador, then things remain very clear – Israeli soldiers opened fire on unarmed civilians, for no good reason. They are evil. If, however, you listen to other accounts, then some uncomfortable facts emerge. To name just a few:

  • The flotilla had been ordered by the Israeli Navy to dock in Ashdod (in Israel) so that the cargo could be inspected, and then delivered by Israel to Gaza. Israeli wanted to make sure that weapons and other military supplies weren’t being delivered under the cover of humanitarian aid (as has happened before). The response to the order to divert was, as caught in a live broadcast, “F$%K off.”
  • Before you say, “we can’t trust Israel to do deliver aid,” remember that Israel currently delivers 15,000 tons of aid to Gaza every week. The flotilla was carrying 10,000 tons of cargo.
  • The Israelis boarded 5 ships without incident. On the 6th, the Israelis claim (and video supports the claim) that they were attacked as soon as they got on the boat. They were attacked with knives, metal rods and chairs. Several of the passengers on the boat try to take guns from soldiers (one of the soldiers suffered a gunshot wound). The Israelis opened fire only after they were attacked, and felt that their lives were in danger (they didn’t even open fire immediately once the beatings began).

You can get more such details here, or you can read a good summary and commentary by Rabbi Daniel Gordis.

As I try to always do, let me make clear that none of these deaths are a good thing. I don’t want violence, and I don’t want Israeli soldiers to be killing people. Some of those people, undoubtedly, truly thought that they were doing the right thing and helping people who desperately need help. But, let’s never confuse a tragedy with a crime, or make the mistake of blaming the wrong side.

Israel was presented with a terrible situation, and horrible things happened as a result. But, the organizers of the flotilla could have prevented it all, and still accomplished their stated goal of getting aid to Gaza. Of course, if their true goal was to once again put Israel in a no-win situation, and to gain a p.r. victory, even if it cost lives, then they did exactly what they set out to do.

I pray that Israel’s version of events is closer to the truth than the one being presented by Israel’s enemies. If history is a guide, then I’ll have my prayer answered. But, I’m sad to say that I don’t even hope anymore that the world will see through the lies. The world seems all to eager to blame Israel whenever possible. One more reason that those of us who love Israel had to stand by her.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.